No risk to newborns from baby bottle chemical linked to cancer

The EU has affirmed the safety of the controversial chemical bisphenol A (BPA), a common ingredient in plastic baby bottles and food storage containers.

The conclusion, which came in a report issued by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) on 23 July, follows Canada’s move to ban the chemical earlier this year after several animal studies indicated that BPA can be harmful even at low levels.

In the new report, a panel of scientists appointed by EFSA concludes that humans more rapidly metabolise and eliminate BPA than do the rats used in scientific research. The report goes further to suggest that the exposure of human foetuses to BPA is ’negligible’ because the mother rapidly metabolises and eliminates the substance from her body.

The EFSA panel also says that newborns can similarly metabolise and eliminate BPA at doses below 1mg per kg of body weight per day - far above the Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI) of 0.05mg/kg of body weight set by the panel in 2006.

’This body of evidence further limits the relevance of low-dose effects of BPA reported in some rodent studies used for human risk assessment,’ the panel notes.

Nevertheless, some researchers in the field remain sceptical. ’I’m not sure what data they examined - there are very few good studies that have looked at human metabolism,’ says Scott Belcher, a University of Cincinnati pharmacologist who studies the effects of BPA on brain development. The rat is a standard toxicological model that can translate to humans, he says.

’Metabolism doesn’t inform safety - you have to take distribution and other factors into account,’ Belcher told Chemistry World. ’BPA is going to be a controversy that won’t go away for a long time.’

EFSA has said it will continue to closely monitor scientific findings regarding BPA and any related health effects.

’BPA is one of the best tested substances in the world; it has been assessed by numerous scientific government bodies and they conclude that it can be used safely,’ says Gernot Klotz, an official with Cefic, the European chemical industry council. ’We very much welcome this sort of scientific risk-based decision-making.’

In the US, the American Chemistry Council welcomed the EFSA findings. ’The conclusions reported today provide strong reassurance to consumers that they are not at risk from use of consumer products made from polycarbonate plastic,’ Steven Hentges, an official with the organisation’s Polycarbonate/BPA Global Group, said in a statement.

For its part, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) holds a position that is consistent with EFSA’s. FDA has said the scientific evidence indicates that the products it regulates containing BPA are safe, noting that exposure levels to BPA from food contact materials, including for infants and children, are below those that may cause health effects. 

Back in April, however, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) released a draft report concluding that BPA may be linked to several serious reproductive and developmental problems, like breast cancer, prostate cancer and the early onset of puberty. The preliminary document, issued by NIH’s National Toxicology Programme (NTP), concluded that BPA’s dangers are greater than had been previously assumed.

The programme’s final statement on BPA’s safety is expected in late August or early September.

Rebecca Trager, US correspondent for Research Day USA